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Poisoning the well

richardson

At a recent town hall, Idaho’s First District Congressman Russ Fulcher bashed federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, claiming they are acting like an unaccountable fourth branch of government. He went on to say that the agencies hate each other, don’t work well together, and seem to be acting outside the law. What a nice little echo chamber for our paranoid president who constantly attacks federal law enforcement and the intelligence community with wild, unsubstantiated accusations.

Fulcher’s loose, uninformed babble might score points with the conspiracy theorists, but it is irresponsible and very possibly harmful to legitimate investigative and law enforcement efforts.

Of course, Fulcher wouldn’t be the first Idaho demagogue to make a name for himself lambasting agencies of our federal government. His first district predecessors — Helen Chenoweth, Steve Symms, Bill Sali, and Butch Otter — all took their cues from the same playbook, whether demanding the feds “butt out,” conjuring up images of predatory “black helicopters,” or denigrating agents as “jack-booted thugs.”

But Fulcher is wrong.

Having served for seven years as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, I worked day in and day out with all of our nation’s intelligence agencies and can attest to the fact that the men and women who do the critical and often dangerous work of federal law enforcement are — with precious few exceptions — outstanding public servants. Yes, there is the occasional federal agent who is overly zealous, unethical, dishonest, or even corrupt — but such individuals are extremely few and very far between.

Moreover, the agencies do not “hate each other,” as Fulcher asserts. Both the leadership and the rank and file in the various agencies understand full well that teamwork is essential if they are to be effective. Are there occasional turf wars? Yes, there are. But while the agencies might compete for resources and recognition, they see their missions as complimentary. They serve the same nation, swear to defend the same Constitution, protect the same people, and follow the same laws.

When individual agents or entire agencies truly act outside the law they should be promptly and fully held to account. But broadsides made of whole cloth, such as those lobbed by Trump and Fulcher, can do real damage to our system of justice. What are we to say to the victims of federal crime when hung juries result if just one juror refuses to accept the sworn testimony of a federal agent because people like Trump and Fulcher have so poisoned the well that the juror rejects the agent’s testimony out of hand?

Many Idahoans have long had a love-hate relationship with the federal government; but this wholesale vilification of federal law enforcement by our president and Mr. Fulcher is unwarranted and recklessly undermines public confidence in some of our indispensable institutions. By sewing fear and distrust, they will harvest chaos. This makes it all the more important that we who have worked in federal law enforcement forcefully and consistently speak up and call out the lies.

(drawing/Robert Huffstutter)
 

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